Geoffrey Hendricks (1931-2018) was a steadfast supporter of Visual AIDS, actively involved in stewarding many of the organizations foundational programs including The Archive Project and serving on the Visual AIDS Board of Directors for over a decade. It was with great sadness that we learned that Geoff passed away last month. In a sense, it felt fitting that many of us learned the news while the Visual AIDS community was together for the 6th Annual Last Address Tribute Walk; we held each other, dedicated the event in the moment to his memory, and felt his presence with us, as always. Here, Visual AIDS has asked Artist+ Members and those close to Geoff to reflect on his endearing energy and influential creativity.
NELSON SANTOS, former Visual AIDS Executive Director
Geoffrey Hendricks was a guiding force. As an artist, teacher, and mentor he taught and inspired others through his kind and generous spirit—and his way of being in the world. Not only was he a guiding light to so many individuals, he was a guiding force behind Visual AIDS. Always supportive, he lead with curiosity, understanding, and an open heartedness—he lead with love.
When I started at Visual AIDS in 2000, Geoff was already Board President, and welcomed me into the Visual AIDS family with open arms, literally, not with a handshake, but with a hug and a kiss. I was smitten by the Cloudsmith. When speaking with Geoff he would often start his response with a “Yeah. Right.” This was never in a cynical “whatever” way, but in all affirmatives. It was a “Yes. You are right. Yes. I hear you. Yes. I believe you.” Geoff, always operating in the positive.
I remember early on taking a bus trip with Geoff, Sur, and a group of other Visual AIDS friends to Rutgers University, where Geoff was teaching at the time, for Visual AIDS’s “ Lightbox: A Traveling Exhibition” and the corresponding group show “Visual AIDS: Selections from the Archive” that opened for Day With(out) Art in December 2000. Sur Rodney (Sur) and Stefanie Nagorka curated Lightbox, and Geoff helped arrange the exhibition (and the bus ride) to the Paul Robeson Gallery at Rutgers. It was on this trip that I first started to learn about Geoff’s long history with Visual AIDS and how his love of people lead to his passion in honoring and preserving legacies.
After Geoff’s lover and fellow artist Brian Buczak passed away (1954–1987), Geoff reached out to Bill Olander (1950–1989), then Curator at the New Museum, and soon one of Visual AIDS co-founders. They discussed a possible exhibition of Brian’s work, and out of that conversation, Geoff got involved with a circle of artists, curators and others, including Frank Moore and David Hirch, to discuss how to create an archive to preserve and honor the legacy of artists lost to AIDS-related complications. Out of these discussions, the Archive Project evolved, which later became a project of Visual AIDS.
Geoff soon joined the Board of Visual AIDS and together with David Hirsh conceived of the idea of an exhibition featuring the work of HIV-positive artists titled “Art’s Communities / AIDS’ Communities: Realizing The Archive Project.” The exhibition installation was designed by Geoff and Sur Rodney (Sur), from a group of curatorial contributors, and opened at Cyclorama, Boston Center for the Arts in 1996, featuring works by over 120 artists living with HIV and estates of those lost to AIDS. This may still be the single largest exhibition of works by HIV-positive artists. Geoff continued to co-curate exhibitions that featured the Archive Project, including ABC Index of Artists (1996), and A Living Testaments of the Blood Fairies (Part I & II, 1997). As Board President, Geoff guided the organization’s programs and exhibitions, not by telling others what to do, but by guiding with generous compassion and thoughtful consideration. This essence continues to carry the organization forward and his will spirit guide all of us.
In speaking about the artwork in The Archive Project, Geoff stated it “gives tangible visibility to the dimension of our collective loss; the dimension of the creative energy that is embraced…(and) the perception of the forces of life…”
Geoff was a force of life.
YOKO ONO, artist
For us it’s a loss, but he must be enjoying up in the sky. In our group, he was the one artist whose work was very zen and influenced us all. Love, yoko
ERIC RHEIN, Visual AIDS Artist Member
Brother, Father, Sage
Geoff Hendricks has been in each “room” along the path of my engagement with Visual AIDS. His welcoming kiss and compassionate eyes affirmed that, though we had different (mixed status) vantage points on HIV and AIDS, he understood: “We are together in this.”
I met Geoff in 1994, at a gathering in Frank Moore’s loft: we were there to envision how Visual AIDS could safeguard the legacies of artists with HIV and AIDS. Geoff affirmed that whatever the years may bring, our lives mattered—and that our art and life were one. The title of the show Geoff co-curated with Sur Rodney (Sur) and Frank Moore said it well: our art is A Living Testament of the Blood Fairies.
Geoff cultivated a style evocative of Walt Whitman—with his silvery white beard, wide-brimmed hat, leather vest, and walking stick steadying his gait—a warming association to a lineage of creative men-who-love-men. Witnessing Geoff moving into old age, through years when many friends died young, was a gift: he saw our lives, and loved us.
A prolific artist, poetically exploring sky imagery in paintings and sculpture, Geoff personified what a community elder could be: a steady and nurturing comrade, a holder of history, and cultivator of platforms for new stories to unfold.
ANNIE SPRINKLE, artist
Great artist and cloud-smith
A favorite of many memories of Geoff...
When my partner Beth and I
Cuddled him naked
In our “ Dirt Bed” performance in a gallery
He was 100% willing to strip and jump into the soil
In front of a whole bunch of people and get dirty
He radiated love and joy
While his handsom partner Sur watched
With amusement in his eyes.
In gratitude, Annie Sprinkle
BETH STEPHENS, artist, academic
I met Geoffrey Hendricks for the first time in the fall of 1990, the night he dunked his head into a big bucket of blue paint. He placed his dripping blue head down on a long roll of paper and painted a fat blue line by crawling backwards to the paper’s end. I had never seen anything like this before and I knew I was in the right place. Geoff’s rendition of Nam June Paik’s flux piece “Zen for Head” was my ticket to making any kind of art I wanted. I was so happy to be Geoff’s grad student at Rutgers University. He opened up Fluxus possibilities of artistic play and joy to me and I’ve never taken art too seriously since, even as I’ve dedicated my life to being an artist.
I moved out to California and my friendship with Geoff deepened. When Annie Sprinkle and I got together, Geoff was one of our most supportive friends (he loved Annie’s Nurse Sprinkle skit). His delight in our being together helped nurture and solidify our relationship, as community approval often does. He was our Flux Priest for our Red Wedding One, (2004) at the old Harmony Burlesque Club in NYC, with his only condition being that I obtain a dirty altar boy for him, (which I did). Geoff (illegally) married us in a dream artist ceremony that kicked off our collaborative work right up to the present moment.
In 2006, I arranged a small exhibition of flux boxes made by Geoff (with his former partner Brian Buczak), at UC Santa Cruz, where I’m a professor. For the opening, we did headstands together. Doing a headstand with Geoff felt significant for no other reason than it provided me a different point of view of the world, one that I could share with an artist I loved and respected. Headstands are magical, as anyone who has ever tried one knows. Sharing the upside down position was an absurd act of solidarity. Geoff had an international headstand practice that bestowed joy on all who witnessed his peaceful, elegant act of queer resistance. His headstands showed that things do not have to always be right side up, as we are taught they must. Upside down opens up endless possibilities for how the world can be a more magical place. This is especially so when performed by someone as creative, generous, beautiful and loving as Geoffrey Hendricks.
I am blessed to have known Geoffrey Hendricks and I will miss him on this earthly plane. My life, my teaching, and my art are better for having been lucky enough to share some of Geoff’s queer upside down vision of the world. In this spirit or resistance, I remember him telling me that when I got tenure to “use it!” and I have.
Thank you dear Geoff for your loving collaboration and know that I am committed to sharing the love and fearlessness that you shared with me, each and every day.
[ Geoff interviewed by Annie & Beth, with an image of him doing a headstand]
JACK WATERS, Visual AIDS Artist Member
In 1995 I made the video “Percodan And Wisdom.” The interior set for this fantasy, inspired by the poem of the same title by Sur Rodney (Sur), was the loft studio on Warren Street I shared with my friend, the photographer Susan Salinger. Concurrent to the production of the video, Susan and I hosted a fabulous party for MIX NYC. Among the guests I didn’t know, Sur indicated a strikingly handsome figure he’d recently been dating. Sur whispered like an enchanted teenager asking whether this was someone I thought he cultivate a romance. I said yes. This man turned out to be Geoffrey Hendricks. As my acquaintance with Sur developed into a great friendship, and Sur’s relationship to Geoff a life partnership, so did my longstanding admiration for, and indelible affinity with both.
Flash forward to 2000. Geoff commissioned my life partner and longtime collaborator Peter Cramer to create the video "Søma, Søma, Søma," a documentation of the landmark exhibition Geoff curated featuring the performance work of his former student William Pope.L, and the up-and-coming artist Patty Chang. By this time we’d had several dinners with Sur and Geoff at their home on Greenwich Street, the formerly abandoned carriage house that Geoff and his brother John converted from a shell with Geoff’s prior partner, the late great artist Brian Buczak. At such dinners, shows and happenings, Peter and I met incredible artists from Geoff’s Fluxus community like Alison Knowles, Carolee Schneeman, and Ben Patterson. Geoff and Sur’s travel coincided with Peter and my 2001 visit to the Venice Biennial when the exceptionally visionary gallerist Emily Harvey opened her gallery near the Rialto. At this debut exhibition, Harvey reunited many American and European associates of the slippery Fluxus practice. What might have been an overwhelming experience sitting at dinner among these luminaries of international art was offset by Geoff’s characteristic down to earth and loving generosity of spirit. It settled in that Geoff’s lack of pretension, love of food, fun and foolery was simply the Fluxus way.
November 2004: Our first visit to Geoff’s farm in Cape Bretton Island, Nova Scotia. Geoff thought nothing of the 15 hour travel over land and water, often driving alone multiple times a year. This time Peter and I accompanied he and Sur on this amazing adventure. I will always remember Geoff clearing the paths of the thick verdant overgrowth that amassed since his previous time there, swinging his scythe like the giant mountain man he was as we collected wildly shaped and colored mushrooms that only he among us could identify as edible.
We returned to Cape Bretton in 2011 for Geoff’s 80th birthday celebration on July 30th. The weeklong party was attended by his friends and family from across the globe. Peter and I were honored to document the event on video commissioned by Geoff Hendricks with production management by Lydia Grey. We edited over 30 hours of footage into a modular documentation of happenings starting with Geoff’s Scottish neighbors giving a history of the locality and barn structure, the "Barn Soundings” opening ceremony and dedication led by David Martin; "The Vessel Stories" choreographed and performed by Molissa Fenley and group danced to a live "String Quartet #4 (Buczak)" attended by the quartet composer Phillip Glass, a Cape Bretton neighbor; "A Nimbus for Geoff" a Violin sounding by Malcolm Goldstein; the installation and conversation about "Iron Sheep," a three dimensional drawing with the artist Martha Edelheit. [ Vimeo link to Geoff's 80th birthday celebration]
Our last travel with Geoff was in 2016 where we spent an idyllic fortnight with 10 friends in the province of Matera, Italy. The trip was capped in a performance at the Morra Foundation/Herman Nitsch Museum, operated by Geoff’s longtime friends and patrons in Naples.
PETER CRAMER, Visual AIDS Artist Member
Geoff Hendricks (Cloudsmith) floated into my life with the Dick Higgins Fluxus event at Judson Church when Sur Rodney (Sur) shaved Geoff's scalp. That event cemented their relationship and mine to them as friends and colleagues. Getting to know more about him, Sur and their art collaborations deepened an appreciation and thanks for the many introductions and opportunities to further develop as artists. A connection to Emily Harvey allowed multiple artist residencies in Venice and New York to help develop "Pestilence," a theater collaboration with Jack Waters.
Video commissions documenting Geoff’s art & life include the 2000 exhibition "Söma, Söma, Söma" with Patty Chang and William Pope.L at Sculpture Center to an amazing 80th birthday celebration in Cape Breton featuring performances by Molissa Fenley and interviews with Geoff, Martha Edelheit, Malcolm Goldstein, and Joan Jonas in 2011.
Geoff's generous spirit, mind and body radiated a lively energy that will be greatly missed by me and the many more that were lucky to have met him on paths less traveled…
LYDIA GREY, artist, curator
Geoff started as a teacher, became a mentor, turned into a friend, and became part of the chosen family that includes those most special to our lives.
I first met Geoff as an undergraduate at Rutgers. Three of us talked our way into his graduate performance art class. He welcomed us—and transformed us. Geoff introduced us to an incredibly wide range of artists, had us reenact pieces, create our own performances, and share ideas. He contributed his extensive knowledge and his personal experience. We thrived.
His teaching style was flexible enough to allow for individual exploration, while still subtly guiding us towards our own creative discoveries. This approach to teaching was an integral part of who Geoff was—allowing people to be themselves, while inspiring them to be more, explore more, accomplish more. He showed us what was possible.
After graduation, I ended up in Berlin for a year. And it happened that Geoff was there as an artist in residence during his sabbatical. It was a lovely surprise. We would get together for tea and talk, and we grew from student/teacher into being friends. He fed me fennel, invited me to art events, and introduced me to his family.
After we returned, I developed a habit of just stopping by. I’d be in New York City, have a few minutes, and knock on his door. The first time he seemed surprised; the second time less so. He was soon referring to me as “Lydia who knocks on the door and comes in for tea.” He was always welcoming.
And he in turn would show up unannounced at our events, performances, and openings; continuing to support us with his strong hugs and true interest in whatever we were doing.
Over the years, I had the privilege of working with Geoff on a number of his projects—stage managing performances, organizing birthday celebrations, shooting and editing video, compiling editions—as well as travelling to see his exhibitions, and studying with him once again as a graduate student. All were magical occasions of clouds and growth and wonder.
He will be missed.
JONATHAN LEITER, Visual AIDS Artist Member
Geoffrey Hendricks was my teacher, friend and mentor.
The following performance score was composed in his honor for Chicago Fluxfest 2018 and performed in various locations over this past Memorial Day weekend. Please feel free to create your own version:
SMALL BOATS 4 CLOUDSMITH
Bottles are small boats.
Draw a cloud. Write a secret message. Put them in a small bottle boat. Launch the boat as far out into the water as you can.
Say "Uh huh" 3 times, while nodding.